CIGS Manufacturers Making Efficiency and Safety Gains

CIGS manufacturers made important announcements this week that may lead to further market penetration of their products.

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Material Science and Technology (EMPA) have set a new record of 17.6% for the efficiency of flexible thin film solar cells on polymer film.  Led by Dr. Ayodhya N. Tiwari at the EMPA in Switzerland the research group has developed a process that resulted in a 17.6% efficiency solar cell.  The lab states that this result, which was independently verified by Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) in Freiburg, Germany, is the highest efficiency record for any type of flexible solar cell on polymer film reported up to now.

The previous record value was 14.1% and new higher result was achieved by reducing the optical and electronic losses in the CIGS solar cell structure, according to a press release about the development.

This November, Dr. Tiwari Ayodhya will be speaking at the 3rd Thin Film Solar Summit USA about enhancing thin film efficiency and the developments that will allow the industry to go beyond the 12% mark.

In related news, thin-film manufacturer Sulfurcell has announced that at EU PVSEC it will be unveiling the prototypes for its new product line: 1.25 m x 0.65 m modules with an efficiency of 10.7 percent and a peak output of 86.8 watts. TÜV Rheinland, the German technical inspection agency, has confirmed the results.

Sulfurcell said that it is relying on a reconfigured semiconductor layer to produce the new modules, basing them, for the first time, on CIGSe semiconductors, according to the company. The “CIGSe” abbreviation stands for the elements copper, indium, gallium and selenide. In contrast to its first production line, Sulfurcell is using selenide instead of sulphur in these new modules.

The company will be converting part of its production to CIGSe in 2011 and will then market the premium product on a megawatt scale.

Sulfurcell says that even though scientists have been able to produce CIGSe solar cells with efficiencies greater than 20% under laboratory conditions, so far they haven’t been able to achieve such high efficiencies in the manufacturing process.  In order to exploit this potential, Sulfurcell’s CIGSe process deploys co-evaporation techniques. The manner in which these are utilized to manufacture the record-breaking cells depends, however, on proprietary design and components, according to the company.

The company’s medium term technology roadmap is clearly defined: Sulfurcell is already aiming to surpass the 11% threshold in 2011 and the 12% threshold in 2012. Module efficiencies exceeding 14%, says the company, could be achieved by 2015.

To learn more about the manufacturing process, see the company press release here.

Finally, SoloPower has announced that it has achieved UL certification for its flexible CIGS modules.  This is a first-ever achievement for the PV solar industry, SoloPower claims.

UL certification is the result of rigorous testing at an independent laboratory. SoloPower’s thin-film modules were tested to UL 1703, the standard for safety for PV module manufacturing. In addition to this confirmation, SoloPower has conducted extensive internal testing that well exceeds the safety, quality, and reliability standards established by these tests, according to the company.

“The certification of SoloPower’s flexible CIGS module is an important step toward the realization of lightweight, high-power, flexible solar modules with potential to expand the roof-top solar market and reduce balance of system costs. It is an important milestone for the industry. I feel very gratified to see, after a 30-year career in Thin Film CIGS PV at NREL, the technology become mature,” said Dr. Rommel Noufi, Principal Scientist of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

SoloPower’s modules will also be on display at EU PVSEC in Valencia.

To understand how CIGS manufacturers are working to bring their products to market, check out Ucilia Wang’s The Rise of CIGS – Finally? on

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